By Joy Saudargas, RD, LDN, Clinical Nutritionist within the Crozer Keystone Health System
It’s no secret that a proper, balanced diet rich in wholesome foods is the key to maintaining your health. Doctors and nutritionists alike have been telling us this for a long time. While the easiest way to ensure your meals are as healthy as possible is to prepare them yourself, sometimes the real world doesn’t allow that.
Whether for convenience, social or business reasons, sometimes life calls for dining out at a restaurant. In fact, most Americans eat more meals out than they do in their own homes. The trouble with that is that many of the meals prepared at restaurants are chock full of sodium, sugar, saturated fats, a sky-high calorie count and contain several portions on one plate – that can single handedly undo the work you did eating other healthy meals and exercising.
But that doesn’t mean you should swear off eating at your favorite restaurants. That just means you need to do a bit of planning and not be shy about making special requests.
The first step to eating a healthy meal in a restaurant is picking the right restaurant. You might want to avoid restaurants offering all-you-can-eat buffets or specials. You may be more likely to eat more food than you need and therefore consume more calories than necessary.
During this planning process, take a look at a restaurant’s menu. Many restaurants now publish their menus online and some even include nutritional information. This can help you pinpoint the healthiest, yet tastiest, dish to order before you’re surrounded (and tempted) by decadent scents and watching servers walk by with incredible plates of food.
You may want to avoid the extras during your meal such appetizers, cocktails and dessert. These items will tack on extra fat, sodium and calories to your meal.
When you see a dish on the menu you would like and could be healthy, but it’s smothered in a creamy sauce or fried, ask your server how it is prepared or if it’s possible to modify it into something healthier.
Since restaurants are in the business of serving you, don’t feel bad requesting butter, dressings or sauces to be served on the side. And if something is fried, ask if it can be broiled or grilled instead. You can even ask if substitutions are possible – swap a side of French fries out for a fresh green salad or steamed vegetables.
And if you decide to hit the salad bar, be aware that not all food from a salad bar is healthy. Your best choices are fresh greens, raw vegetables, fresh fruit and garbanzo beans. Skip past any cheeses, marinated salads and vegetable and pasta salads.
When your dish does finally arrive at your table, take a look at how big it is. Chances are that, even if the food is healthy, the plate contains multiple servings. Be mindful of how much you eat; one strategy is to request a to-go container before you start eating to place some of the extras in before chowing down.
If you take the time to plan your meal ahead and make smart choices, dining out can still be a satisfying, enjoyable and delicious experience your stomach and overall health will thank you for.